How to create professional-looking videos with a 3-point lighting system

How to create professional-looking videos with a 3-point lighting system

The most overlooked area of amateur videography is lighting.

It’s absolutely crucial for creating professional-looking films. Yet many of us don’t understand its importance, nor how to get it right.

So here’s how to set up a 3-point lighting system which will make your videos look great.

I think the most important thing about cinematography is lighting. That’s how you create the mood that matches the story.
Vilmos Zsigmondr

A quick guide to 3-point video lighting

A common and effective way of lighting a scene is to use a 3-point lighting setup. To get started, close all the curtains and make the room as dark as possible. Then introduce the lights one by one.

1. First – and most important – set up your main light. This is known as the “Key Light”.

  • A dimmable, softbox light is perfect for this (and usually surprisingly affordable).
  • Position the key light at a 30-degree angle (4 o’clock) from you, just above your eye line and direct it onto your face. This angle helps give your face depth.
  • Adjust the brightness setting until it feels natural. If you don’t have an adjustable light, you can replicate this by physically moving the light forwards and back.

2. Now add a “Fill Light”.

  • With just one main light, the contrast of the scene is usually too stark and needs softening. So the fill light acts as a secondary light to reduce the contrast.
  • A dimmable, softbox light is also suitable for this.
  • Place the fill light on the other side of you, at around 8 o’clock.
  • Adjust the brightness to get the right balance (usually the fill should be a little less bright than the key).

3. Finally, the “Rim Light”.

  • The rim light is placed on the floor behind you at 45° (or half-past one) and pointed upwards towards the back of your head.
  • By shining light onto your back, the rim light emphasizes your outline and helps to separate you from the background.
How to set up a 3-point lighting system

What about filming outdoors?

  • Natural light always looks great on screen, but you have to work with it carefully.
  • Aim to film in the morning or evening, when the lower angle and gentler light will be more flattering.
  • Avoid midday as overhead light will cast a harsher shadow. If you have to film in the middle of the day, do so on a cloudy day or find a shady area with softer light.
  • Don’t ever have the sun shining directly into your face – the image will be too bright and you’ll end up squinting into the camera!

Why it’s important to experiment with setting up your 3-point lighting system

While these are good rules to follow, treat them as the starting point and experiment for your own setting as every situation is unique.

Basically, the main rule is – does it look right to you? If not, it won’t look right to your audience either so make adjustments until you’re happy with it!

It can take a bit of practice to figure out the best lighting set-up for your video but it’s worth it. Check out my other blog articles for more video recording and presentation tips. Or ask a question in the Video Creators Facebook Group.

Back to Top